Copyright © 2017, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Back in the days of territorial Oklahoma, there was a natural friction between the rancher and the farmer. The rancher wanted open ranges for cattle to roam. The farmer fenced off his acreage to keep livestock from trampling his crops.
The songwriting team of Rodgers and Hammerstein made the conflict famous with “The Farmer and the Cowman” in the musical “Oklahoma.”
“The Farmer and the Cowman” is similar to the differences between modern-day research scientists and data scientists, Dave King told the audience recently at the 2017 Health Research Conference, sponsored by the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST).
The conference was held at the Samis Education Center at Children’s Hospital.
“Research scientists and data scientists are a little like oil and water right now,” King told an audience of scientists who are recipients of OCAST health research funding grants. “Data scientists are more interested in correlations, while research scientist are interested in causations.”
King is a data scientist and founder and CEO of Oklahoma City-based Exaptive, which facilitates analysis of large amounts of data to discover trends or new information. Exaptive is taken from the word “exaptation,” which describes what happens in nature when one natural trait is co-opted for another use. Think feathers used for both warmth and flight.
For his audience of health researchers, King pitched exaptation as a way to bring data science and research science together to develop new ways to use discoveries or even bring together scientists from different geographies or disciplines.
“You guys are health researchers,” King told his audience. “Even when you are working on health research, you might be doing something that could help someone who is working in astronomical research. That’s the thing I’m interested in.”
Bringing disparate disciplines together could have implications for all of society, King said.
“We now rely on data science for connecting us to all sorts of things,” he said. “We use it to connect us to new music that we haven’t seen before. It connects us to movies we haven’t seen. But we don’t have any platforms that are optimized for the generation of new ideas.”
About 100 research scientists from across Oklahoma attended the Health Research Conference. A large contingent came from the Tulsa area, which reflects a recent trend of OCAST-funded projects across a more diverse areas of the state, said Dan Luton, programs director at OCAST.
In past years, about 80 percent of OCAST health research grant funding was awarded to scientists on the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences campus in Oklahoma City. Today, the ratio of grant funding is roughly 50-50 between OUHSC and the rest of the state, Luton said.Rashmi Kaul, Ph.D., associate professor of immunology at Oklahoma State University’s Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa, said greater awareness of OCAST’s programs is translating into more participation by Tulsa researchers.
“I didn’t know about OCAST, and they started having workshops (in Tulsa),” Kaul said. “That really raised awareness. And OCAST people in Tulsa started coming and talking to us and building confidence. That helped, I think.”
Michael Carolina, OCAST executive director, said the Health Research conference was a platform to connect scientists with each other and showcase that funding diversity.
“We’re so pleased that our health research program is funding larger numbers of scientists from diverse geographies across Oklahoma,” Carolina said. “We hope this conference helps to connect those researchers with each other and result in future collaborations, as well.”